“DOBRINKA TABAKOVA: String Paths” = Insight; Concerto for Cello and Strings; Frozen River Flows; Suite in Old Style; Such different paths – Roman Mints, Janine Jansen, and Julia-Maria Kretz, violins/ Maxim Rysanov and Amiha Grosz, violas/ Kristina Blaumane, Torleif Thedéen, and Boris Andrianov, cellos/ Rimondas Sviackeckevičius, accordion / Donatas Bagurskas and Stacey Watton, double basses/ Vaiva Eidukaityė-Storastienė, harpsichord/ Lithuanian Ch. Orch./ Maxim Rysanov – ECM New Series 2239, 72:00 [Distr. by Universal Classics] (6/18/13) *****:
Bulgarian composer Dobrinka Tabakova writes music that sounds at once familiar and yet fresh. That’s perhaps because, as the notes to this recording suggest, her work “has a particularly 21st-century feel for its broad palette—its free mix of tonality and modality, of folk-music influence and the example of past masters.” Educated at the Guildhall School of Music and King’s College, where she received a doctorate in composition, Tabakova is about as far removed from the tuneless, keening, endlessly iterative rant that characterizes some contemporary English composers who shall remain nameless. Among those cited “past masters” that have influenced Tabakova, one assumes the so-called holy minimalists such as Pärt and Kancheli can be numbered. Certainly, Arvo Pärt came to mind when I heard Tabakova’s Insight for string trio. That odd feeling of suspended animation haunts the work, but there is more here than that. For one thing, the trio really takes off occasionally, in passages of syncopated, almost jazzy, restiveness. One of Tabakova’s objects here is to blend the three strings so that they meld into the sound of a single instrument or instrumental body—an accordion, say, or “brass choir.” And she succeeds, as she puts it, into “morphing” the sound of the string trio in ways that intrigue and beguile.
But sonic experimentation is hardly the chief object of Tabakova’s music, as the next piece, Concerto for Cello and Strings, illustrates. Written for the performer on this disc— Kristine Blaumane, principal cellist of the London Philharmonic—its raison d’etre seems to be much more traditional. First of all, the work is to some extent programmatic, its three movements titled “Turbulent,” “Longing,” and “Radiant.” Besides exploring a range of emotional states and the various challenges that means for the soloist, it has a folk-musical sound, especially in its pentatonic middle section.
That kind of folksiness is even more evident in Tabakova’s string septet Such different paths, written for famed violinist Janine Jansen. The composer believes that “chamber music is at the heart of her [Jansen’s] music making. . . . an ideal that she applies to her performances whether concerto or chamber.” This led Tabakova to write a highly fluid piece of music in which monologue and dialogue alternate to form “layers and. . .shifts in perspective, like a camera zooming in and out of focus on the background and foreground.” The piece does have this constantly shifting quality about it, with moments of near stasis followed by passages of skittering folk dance, chug-chugging chords in the lower strings beneath stratospheric musings by the solo violin. Such different paths has an eerie sort of beauty to it that stays in the ear.
Very different again are Frozen River Flows and Suite in Old Style, the former an appropriately icy, aloof piece for violin, double bass, and accordion. This strange assortment of instruments makes the work sound alien, otherworldly. Far more down to earth is the Suite, which recalls similarly named works by Górecki, Schnittke, and Penderecki, though Tabakova states that her primary influence is Respighi, who memorably combined “music of the past and present.” She further explains, “the conversation I wanted to have was with Rameau” (with whom Respighi had his own conversation in his suite titled The Birds). The addition of harpsichord to string orchestra and solo viola provides the proper atmospherics, while the crazy, near-jazzy riffs on the viola in the last movement (“Riddle of the barrel-organ player”) bring this faux Baroque suite right up to date.
This is music of great variety, works that share with the listener the very joy of music-making itself. Enthusiastically recommended, especially to those who need a break from contemporary music’s typical wailing and gnashing!